Walking down the corridors of memory…

On our holiday in Darwin this year we hear about a place called Burnett House (a National Trust Heritage Building). I love historical buildings, so we make a visit one morning. I am expecting an English style mansion like Government House in Canberra. We walk to Larrakeyah to see the house and as we turn the corner of Burnett Place my heart skips a beat. I look over a fence garlanded in bougainvillea and step back in time to my grandmother’s house in Kuala Lumpur (pictured in the black and white photo below).

A lovely woman greets us, and I wander through familiar rooms breathing in the solace of a place long gone—airy sunrooms, beds netted against mosquitoes, an old English children’s story book on a bedside table, an outside scullery, wooden walls not quite reaching the ceilings (perfect for children to scramble over).

In the tropical garden, I read that this is the Burnett K model house built by Beni C.G. Burnett. Burnett, like my maternal grandfather, had travelled through the Far East including places like China and Malaya. The sign says: “Burnett House is a K type, and it demonstrates a distinct similarity to the style of colonial houses in Malaya and Singapore.”

The house was built in 1938 around the same time that my grandfather would have built his family home in Kuala Lumpur. Sadly, my grandparents’ house was demolished many decades ago by the Malaysian government to make room for a highway—but here is this house (in a different country) pushing me down the corridor of memory.

I walk in and out of rooms—not the same rooms—not as many rooms—but oh how my heart knows this place. I am bereft when we leave but it is a comfort to know that this house is here, and I can visit the past again.

© Anita Patel, 2022

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